Tides – how they affect fishing

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About tides

Tides are the rise and fall of the sea level.  They're caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon and follow a lunar timetable. Fascinating aye!

Well, it's fascinating if you join those fishers who use the moon and tides to judge the best times to go fishing. This can seems a pretty complex business but these insights can give you great results, so we'll try to simplify some of it here - you never know, you may end up falling into the camp of those who swear by them.

The position of the sun & moon pull the tides. The moon is the stronger force as it's closer to earth.

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How they work

The moon has more of an influence on the earth’s oceans than the sun because it is much closer. When they work together, in sync, they produce both the biggest and the smallest tides of the year.

How high the tides raise will vary according to the position of the moon in relation to the sun.

When the two are in line, we experience big tides; when they are opposite each other the tidal range is small. When the moon’s orbit brings it closest to earth every 27.5 days (perigree) we experience the highest tides of the month. When the moon is at its furthest point from earth (apogee), tides are lowest.

Tides take 12 hours to change from low to high and vice versa.

Height of the tides is influenced by a few factors.

Height of the tides is influenced by a few factors.

How tides affect fishing

Tides play an important role in saltwater fishing. They affect where different fish species hang out or congregate, when and how enthusiastically they feed, and influence where you can fish and when. Using tides to your advantage is one of the key skills to learn.

As talked about in our Where to find the fish video, tides produce current. Current is the movement or flow of water and is effected by tides.

Tidal flow or current provides one of the three main things all fish need:  FOOD.

Current sweeps small marine animals and plants along with it, concentrating them in eddies (small whirlpools) and wherever structure like rocks or reefs interrupts the water flow. All kinds of fish take advantage of this, gathering where the food is concentrated.

Pieces of burley attract bait fish

Current moves food through the water. Structure like rocky outcrops and reefs interrupt the water flow and 'catch' food.

Tides move food

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In general terms fishing is usually better when the tide is running - that is during the middle period of the tide, as opposed to the peak of high or low tide when the water is "slack". Snapper and many other species tend to bite more enthusiastically when the water is flowing yet the fish biting often drops off as the tide slows approaching high or low water. It makes sense to time fishing excursions to coincide with a running tide.

The influence of the tide is strongest in shallow water, particularly estuarine, bay and harbour habitats, and also around islands and reefs which ‘squeeze’ the tide through narrow channels.


You'll notice the water levels especially around the coastline.

Tide affects deep water fishing too, dictating where fish hold in relation to structure and concentrating food in eddies (circular movement of water that causes a small whirlpool) and upwellings (deeper nutrient rich water pushed to the surface).

In harbours, estuaries and along surf beaches many desirable fish species move into very shallow areas that dry out at low tide, feeding on invertebrates, molluscs, crustaceans and baitfish. To a lesser extent, the same thing happens along rocky shorelines.

As the tide ebbs (goes out), these fish move back into deeper water. In harbours and estuaries, it’s often possible to intercept the fish. Check for guts and channels in estuaries and harbours. These are deeper areas where water is still flowing when the surrounding areas are dry or very shallow. These areas can be impassable so a great place intercept fish as they move in our out with the tide.


You'll notice tidal movement most in estuaries,  harbours & seaside

You'll notice tidal movement most in estuaries, harbours & seaside

However, some locations, especially in deep water, may only be practical to fish at slack water because lots of tidal flow make it impossible to get baits or lures down to the fish.

The strength of the current influences how much weight you’ll use on your fishing rigs. More tidal current usually means a heavier weight. Adjust your sinker weight to compensate for changes in current strength throughout the tidal cycle.



Teardrop Sinkers

Positioning using the tides

Determining where fish are holding in relation to the current (tide) is important for fishing success, whether fishing at anchor or drifting.

Use your fish finder to locate concentrations of bait and schools of fish. Determine whether they are holding up-tide or down-tide of structure, or off to one side, and position the boat so you can fish to them.

Be prepared to move the boat until you get the positioning right. Also be aware that fish may aggregate well away from structure where an eddy (a circular movement of water causing a small whirlpool) concentrates food.


Bottom structure & fish on sounder

Bottom structure & fish on sounder

Spots and fishing

Be prepared to move with the tide: when it turns the fish will almost certainly relocate. A fishing spot may produce results only at certain points in the tide.  For example you may consistently catch fish at a particular spot at low tide, but not high tide.

Taking note (mental or otherwise) of the tides when you're fishing a particular spot will help you see patterns in the success of a spot. You may discover new spots you just didn't know fished well at those tides.

So when you've got your tides sussed, another thing to think about is the moon phases and bite times . Another natural element that can play a big part.

Move as the tide changes


Strayline fishing with bait, squid